Danny Ainge on How the Play-In Tournament Had an Unintended Impact on the Trade Deadline for the Celtics

Danny Ainge held a press conference early Friday morning to discuss the Celtics trade deadline moves. Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston asked if the presence of the play-in tournament for the final spots in each conference’s playoff picture, a new reality for teams to consider at the trade deadline, made it more difficult to get deals done:

“It just feels like there are more teams that are trying to get better.” Ainge said. “There’s not very many teams at all that are trying to just give players away and trade players away for future [assets]… so it could have something to do with the 10-seed still being in the game.”

It’s pretty simple. More teams have hope that they could make the playoffs than ever before. Whereas a 12-seed in recent years might be inclined to pack it in and tank, this year they feel empowered to make a run at 10th in their conference and give themselves a shot at the playoffs. The only teams that sold off significant players who were able to net first round picks (or swaps) in return at the deadline were the Rockets and Magic, both in 14th place in their respective conferences.

A team like the Kings, currently 11th in the West, might be one of the potential trade partners that Ainge is referring to as being less willing to deal. Sacramento made a few minor moves, but nothing that drastically changed their outlook for this season. The Celtics had been heavily linked to Harrison Barnes in recent weeks, but the Kings were reportedly unwilling to move the veteran forward. As of today, Sacramento sits 2.0 games out of 10th place and 3.5 games out of 8th place. While not a huge difference, only having one team to leapfrog instead of three three for a playoff spot might’ve been enough to empower them to hold onto Barnes and see the season through. Had the play-in tournament not been implemented, perhaps it would be Barnes putting on the #40 jersey for the Celtics instead of Luke Kornet.

It’s unlikely that the NBA would let this be something that gives them serious pause about the play-in tournament being implemented as a permanent fixture in the years to come. It has been widely regarded as a wildly entertaining and grippingly competitive success. This is really the first drawback that has popped up to the tournament and the NBA might even be in favor of encouraging more teams to be competitive rather than tank the season away. It could make for less interesting trade deadlines in the future, but ultimately the pros outweigh the cons. Perhaps as teams get used to the play-in tournament it will become less appealing and things will resort back to their usual state at the trade deadline.

Photo: (John Tlumacki – Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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